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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 11:33 GMT
Australia 'to revamp drought pay'
Sheep graze in a dry paddock in New South Wales, Australia
Australia is in its sixth consecutive year of drought
Australia's new Labor government is planning an overhaul of relief payments given to farmers suffering from the country's chronic drought conditions.

Agriculture Minister Tony Burke says he supports the payments system but wants it to be improved, with farmers given more help to deal with climate change.

The opposition has denounced the plans as being simplistic and "anti-country".

Australia has suffered six years of drought, and farmers have received billions of dollars to help them cope.

Mr Burke said government help must be combined with climate change initiatives.

It is simplistic to claim that all the problems confronting the rural sector can be solved by more research into climate change
Warren Truss
Opposition leader

"The starting point is, Labor supports the drought relief system as exceptional circumstances," he told Australia's ABC Radio.

"What we want to make sure of is that it can be improved so that whenever somebody goes through a period of drought and goes through a period of needing government assistance, by the time that period's over, they've actually got themselves better prepared and better engaged to deal with climate change."

The government is considering offering incentives to encourage farmers to change their production methods, possibly including adopting genetically-modified (GM) crops if they were able to be grown using less water.

But he insisted it would be farmers and not the government who would make decisions about what to grow.

"We certainly won't be in the business of telling farmers what they can and can't grow on their properties," he said.

But opposition leader Warren Truss has expressed concern, accusing Labor of having an "anti-farmer, anti-country vendetta".

"In case Labor hasn't realised, much of Australia has been caught in a cruel drought that in many places stretches back seven years," the Australian newspaper quoted him as saying.

"It is simplistic to claim that all the problems confronting the rural sector can be solved by more research into climate change.''

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